Do you forget names or fail to recall where you left your car keys? Of course you do.
But have you ever caught yourself, in mid-sentence, forgetting a word or a phrase that’s key to your story? Do you get stuck missing a word, or few, while explaining the benefits of a new product to a customer or trying-and struggling-to explain a lesson to school-aged children?
If you do you’re not alone.
It can be frustrating, because the word is on the tip of your tongue, and you can’t quite get it out. You know what you’re trying to say, even when others don’t.
Just this morning my first grade-aged son had asked: “Daddy, can you google the borealis great wall?”
My immediate thought was that he confused the Borealis Aurora with the Great Wall of China. I asked: “Do you mean the Borealis Aurora? After all we had visited Iceland not that long ago.
“No, Daddy!” His response was akin to seeing me with three heads.
He added: “It’s the Hercules Corona Borealis Great Wall, and it’s the biggest structure in the whole universe!” We had just had a brief conversation, the night prior, about the largest things in the universe.
I have come to expect that my six year-old will always have his thoughts, and words, in precise order. He never ceases to amaze me. Clearly he got his mental acumen and sharpness from his mother.
Also this morning, my wife had asked if I could check the box for what Fabrizio needed. I could only muster a blank stare…what box, where was it and what exactly did he want?
Her reply was: “We just talked about this last night.” But in my defense it was early, and I hadn’t yet sipped any coffee.
About an hour later, while skimming through my email, I came upon an article about memory loss and what it might mean. It talked about a study published in the British Medical Journal, in January 2012, which concluded that age-related cognitive decline begins much earlier than expected: by our mid-40s! I’m 48 and my wife is a geriatrician who regularly treats seniors enduring minor to major cognitive decline.
I’m not a neurologist nor am I a scientist. I’m also not a hypochondriac either. But I was suddenly concerned. I don’t subscribe to any medical journals but the uncanny timing and luck of opening an email, which my wife had not sent, was beginning to unnerve me.
The article explained that acetylcholine, a key neurotransmitter, is responsible for forming new connections and strengthening neural pathways in the brain. In short, it keeps your mind sharp.
Furthermore, for most of us, levels of acetylcholine decrease as we age, and rapidly after age 45. But age alone is not the culprit. Like a muscle, your brain needs regular exercise to remain fit. And modern society deprives us of crucial mental exercise.
Way back when…
Prior to the written word, oral history was the only way to spread information and culture to others. Consequently, a strong memory was a crucial part of everyday life. Ancient Greek poets would memorize and recite epic poems that were thousands of lines long. Due to the demands that society placed on their brains, they engaged in rigorous daily mental exercise.
They weren’t held captive by smart phones, and other digital devices monopolizing their attention and distorting the ways in which their brains processed information. No such impediment had yet existed. Their type of singular focus required optimal levels of acetylcholine.
Modern technology denies crucial exercise to certain areas of our brains in two important ways, causing it to atrophy over time. We are exposed to numerous sources of stimulation which constantly disrupt our production of acetylcholine.
Likewise, we no longer need to remember phone numbers, addresses, dates, or even basic navigation because our digital devices have all but replaced our memories.
Both of these factors train your mind to forget and place you at risk for earlier onset of cognitive decline. At least that what research has uncovered, especially as it paints a bleak picture of more people getting Alzheimer’s disease.
Just another person who should listen more to his doctor…
In the past, my wife has pointed out that I spend too much time on social media and encouraged me to track the time. So I started with just one social media app for a week-a 30 minute daily limit on Instagram.
My wife is also a physician who is board-certified in geriatric medicine, internal medicine and lifestyle medicine. She regularly treats patients suffering from Alzheimer’s and other cognitive ailments. No one likes hearing from someone else that it’s paramount to make lifestyle changes, even when it’s a doctor saying so. And even more so when the doctor is your wife. But I’m open minded and was also worried.
Limiting social media’s disruptions…
Once I set it up I figured that would help, and it has with mixed results.
I struggled with maintaining the 30 minute limit. Possibly the only positive was that I have spent less time on LinkedIn, skipping a couple of days per week, sometimes more. Twitter also fell by the wayside but not Facebook.
In short, what I learned was that I spend way too much time with my smart phone. It requires a firm plan of limitation: I no longer take my iPhone to bed and I do my best to not touch it for the first hour upon awakening.
When I succeed I notice how much better I feel, and It’s not just the small victory variety that I overcame the digital pull. I actually feel as if I get more things accomplished.
I shared the article with my wife, thinking that she might elaborate on healthy acetylcholine levels and if that might be what I’m lacking.
My doctor has spoken…
My wife said: “Your memory is good, you just don’t pay attention.”
“Are you sure?”
She responded: “Yes!” Then she laughed and asked if she scared me.
“Well, yes…you did scare me!”
Her response was comical, while laughing she said: “You recall more things than I but sometimes your brain is on auto-mode and you don’t realize what you’re doing.”
I hate to admit it but she’s right. I know that I need to work on paying better attention.
Half jokingly I said: “Men tend toward autopilot mode, honey.”
I think that I have uncovered a new topic for my next post, something along the lines of men are from Mars and women are from venus…